Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Kolkata is the foremost centre of learning of different branches of Science. There are seven campuses of IISER in India. Professor Sourav Pal, the director of the Institute in his exclusive interview with BE’s Kishore Kumar Biswas, talks about the present scenario of science education in India and the problems faced by the science in comparison with other branches of learning in the present global perspective.
A. It is widely assumed that technology or education cannot advance without science. If one considers innovation in technology, then new science is required. Without scientific support, technology will not move beyond services. The automobile industry in India is an example. The country is assembling cars, but no innovations are taking place in this industry. So India has become a consumer and not a producer of technology. To produce it, one has to innovate technology.
One should not differentiate between science and technology. They are interspersed. For having engineering or technological breakthroughs, we need a good knowledge of science. The industrial Revolution of 18th century England was possible on the basis of good scientific knowledge.
Q. In the last few decades, big discoveries in the scientific streams have seem to have lessened whereas the stress is on innovations in digital platforms. Could you please offer an opinion on this?
A. I think one should not decouple science and technology. Big discoveries cannot happen continually. They happen occasionally as a breakthrough research or as and when a point of research reaches its culmination. Science, by its very nature, allows time for fully-tested ideas to manifest into practical outcomes. Technology, which is more digital, is more fast-paced. But as I said before, the basic underpinning of technology is science. Students from an early age have been growing with the idea of science and technology being compartamentalized. Instead, they should be nurtured with the view that scientific knowledge drives technology. Then they would be more interested in learning traditional science.
Q. What is the present status of the teaching science in India?
A. The IISER (Indian Institute of Science Education and Research) was set up to develop science education in the country. I think eventually institutions like IITs and IISERs should collaborate deeply to advance science and technology together. We have set up an incubation centre at IISER Kolkata. This is because we would also like to transform scientific knowledge at early stage into possible viable technology. As an example, I can cite the development of smart buildings, which require knowledge of civil, chemical and flow engineering, chemistry, physics, materials science.
Q. Can a separate, secluded campus like IISER for science education be a better model than a university campus model where a lot of subjects are taught and students can get some exposure to humanities, science, engineering, medicine and more if they like?
A. It is difficult to say which model is better. But we have introduced a few subjects of humanities and social sciences in our institutes as compulsory subjects in students’ curriculum. I think both types of institutes are important and can be run side-by-side. But in the curriculum, there must be a balance among life/ natural sciences and social sciences.
Q. Please tell us about your incubation centre.
A. This was set up recently with the financial help of the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India. It is a non-profit centre. The idea is to produce goods through scientific innovations. Society needs both development of science and its practical products that are beneficial to it. This can provide a good option to our students and all other stake holders to translate early stage research into innovations.
Q. It is claimed that the faculties of IISERs are biased towards Physics. Do you not think this should be changed?
A. Every IISER will have its own strengths. IISER Kolkata from the beginning had a good strength in physics. However, I do not think there is a bias. All departments are being strengthened. In fact, we are continuously striving to reach a balance.
Q. Would you please give some information about the performance of the institute?
A. According to NIRF (National Institutional Ranking Framework) ranking, where all the institutes are ranked in India, we had been in the 44th position in 2017, the first year of our ranking. This time in 2018, we have climbed to the 25th position. It is an overall ranking where all subjects are taken into account. Among the IISERs (Indian Institute of Science Education and Research), we are now number one in India. In this ranking, there are seven institutes in West Bengal who are among the first 50 of NIRF this year. In the state, IISER, Kolkata ranks 4th. We hope our ranking will be better in the days to come.